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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Review: Fire

Author: Kristin Cashore

Release date: September 2009
Genre: Fantasy / High Fantasy / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Gollancz


Fire is a novel which compliments Cashore’s first novel Graceling; it is not a sequel – in fact the events happen to precede the story of Graceling – but I imagine them to be two pieces of a jigsaw which slot neatly together.

Fire is a lady monster. She is the daughter of Cansrel who was the only human monster in The Dells. Her father embodied the very nature of a monster – he was violent, took perverse pleasure from inflicting pain, manipulated people and abused his power. The world in which Fire lives is full of monster creatures – carnivorous raptors, lions, bugs – they have an alarming power to lure their prey to their deaths so that they can devour them. The monsters are gloriously beautiful – brightly coloured with coats that glisten and glow. Fire is just like the creatures. Her beauty and her hair are so startling that men and women wish to possess and ravish her. But Fire is not helpless despite her extraordinary affect on both the creatures and humans. She has the power to control your mind – she could make you do anything you wish if you allow your mind to be an open shell. It takes great strength and control to keep your mind walled against such power.

Fire is not like her father though – she hates the cruel, unforgivable things he did. Cansrel used his power and his friendship with King Nax causing the kingdom to the very edge of ruin. But when Cansrel dies, there is hope for the peoples’ future. Fire is determined not to use her power as a violation. She wants only to be a part of the world and not different from it. Her greatest wish is to be ordinary – she doesn’t want her presence to inspire people to lustful anger, insatiable desire or utter devotion.

Again Cashore amazed me with her skill and depth of characterisation. Through Fire’s character, she explores the question of what it is to be a true monster. I found at first the concept of these monster beings difficult to grasp. Why were they monsters, I wanted to know. How are such creatures more monstrous in their nature than others? I can’t say that I entirely understood except that they had a vampirism about them. They desired the blood of humans from my own interpretation. But more than any other, they desired the blood of Fire. In a way why or how these monster creatures came to be is irrelevant – it is the fact that they are defined as “monsters” that is important to the story. We could exchange the world monster for “other” if we wanted to. They had the power to control the mind and lure you to your doom.

The plot of this story perhaps mirrors more closely that of a historical novel. The Dells is on the brink of war with Lords Gentian and Mydogg. The action rises towards a great battle that will see many lives lost. But Fire’s own path through this story is set when she is in the forest and shot with an arrow. The poacher has a strange mist clouding his mind, the like of which Fire has never seen before. Lord Archer – Fire’s lifelong friend – is concerned about her safety and so they set out from their rural home to discover under whose orders the mysterious poacher acted.

Fire is a complex fantasy novel with many themes weaving through the plot: love, belonging and human nature. Cashore certainly knows how to satisfy the reader – I found the ending to be entirely fulfilling. I will certainly be reading more from this author. Her books are a pleasure to read and recommend.   

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